When one thinks of K-pop, a particular image might come to mind – an artist born and raised in Korea or someone scouted internationally in a neighboring east Asian country who goes on to train at a major label for a forthcoming debut in the next big group.
Then there is AleXa, born Alexaundra Christine Schneiderman – a K-pop idol born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to a Russian American father and Korean American adoptee mother. Before her debut as AleXa in 2019, she had never lived in Korea or spoken fluent Korean.
Not the typical origin story one may think of when K-pop is mentioned, but after spending four years in Korea as a solo artist, AleXa’s journey brings her back to America as a special type of idol. Her path is multilayered and intersectional, and that is maybe precisely why she has managed to battle her way to the finale of NBC’s “American Song Contest.” Representing both her home state of Oklahoma as well as the K-pop industry, for which she is uniquely qualified, she is here to show “more facets of what America has to offer.”
Hosted by Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg, the show features contestants who represent their home state or one of five U.S. territories by performing an original song for the title of America’s Best Song. As audiences wait with bated breath for a winner to be announced during the finale, NextShark spoke with AleXa about her time on the show, cultural exchange with her fellow contestants and what winning with her original K-pop track “Wonderland” would mean to her.
From Korean contest shows to the “Wonderland” of “American Song Contest”
“Getting all the way to the grand finale, it’s kind of crazy,” AleXa says. “It feels like I just got to L.A. yesterday, and we just started. I was on the first episode. Here we are at the very last episode. The finale it’s just, it’s unbelievable. It truly is. It’s unbelievable, but I’m very happy and grateful for this experience.”
The entire process has been about a year long, with AleXa’s team having initially been drawn to the prospect of her participating in “American Song Contest,” which began releasing its first season in March this year, as fans of “Eurovision.”
AleXa is no stranger to competition singing shows. She was in a competitive show choir in high school, where she became one of only four sophomores to pass the auditions in over 15 years, and competed regionally and nationally. She went on to study musical theater in college before auditioning for Soompi and Cube Entertainment’s “Rising Legends” online competition talent search. With over 1 million fan votes across 190 countries and among thousands of other contestants, Schneiderman was crowned the winner of their second season, releasing her first song “Strike It Up” in January 2018.
Soon after, she signed with the Zanybros video production company’s subsidiary ZB Label and eventually competed as one of 96 women in the Mnet reality singing show “Produce 48” in 2018, placing 82nd.
AleXa shares that both her experiences on competition shows and being a Sagittarius with a fiery, competitive spirit helped her when it came time to compete in “American Song Contest,” especially with finding her angles on set.
“Specifically with Produce 48, it helped me with finding cameras. Sometimes it’s hard to catch them; it really is. You’re looking for these tiny, little red lights in these big, dark rooms, all these flashing lights among sounds and smoke,” AleXa says.
“American Song Contest” also presented her with a chance to perform live, something for which the K-pop soloist was “giddy to jump at the opportunity” after two years of not being able to do so as a result of the pandemic.
On executing “Bomb” performances with the help of a “creative powerhouse” team
The competition show veteran also found that “Produce 48” helped her develop her stage persona – one that is bold, fearless and whimsical and dazzled audiences with an aerial performance of her original song “Wonderland” for the semi-finals of “American Song Contest.”
Having performed “Wonderland” in the qualifying rounds, AleXa and her fellow contestants have raised the stakes for their performances each round. Her strategy, she says, was to put her trust in the creative directors, her “creative powerhouse,” as she calls them.
“I could never dare take credit for producing all this. All I do is do what I’m told and give suggestions here and there. So many incredible, genius, hard-working people behind the scenes made this possible. The creative directors, the people that work the tech, the hair and makeup and the costume team for the show [are] insane.”
“Every single outfit I’ve had is a custom-built piece. So every time we get to do a new stage, I get excited to see these geniuses come up with their magic. We throw in suggestions like lighting, nuances or hairstyles, and what if we can incorporate these elements. We’re talking about how we will up the ante for the final stage, but you can expect greatness.”
In response to a suggestion that she do her next shoot in space, she laughingly responds that perhaps she could set herself on fire.
No such thing as “Decoherence” with cross-cultural exchanges on set
Being on a show with representatives of different American states and territories, AleXa shares, has led to fun cultural exchanges with her fellow contestants. She recalls how charming it was when her fellow contestants asked to be taught complicated Korean phrases but settled for her teaching them how to say “I love you” and being shown the K-pop finger hearts.
She also gushes over American Samoa contestant Tenelle.
“She’s telling me about her song meaning, and culturally, even the outfit she wore for the semifinals, it’s so beautiful to see everything that America and its territories offer.”
Shoutout to her “Do Or Die” “A.I. Troopers” and her Okies’ “We Can” attitude
Voting is an integral part of the show, and AleXa’s fans, called A.I. Troopers, are efficient at mobilizing to vote and support.
“I think the word you use, ‘mobilizing,’ it’s honestly a spectacular word to talk about this, to describe the K-pop fandom in general, because my fans, my A.I. Troopers, have been so wonderful and diligent about spreading voting information across all social media platforms and rallying other K-pop group fandoms to join in and help support me. So it’s just cool to see this sense of unity happening online in these communities.”
She goes on to describe how her hometown and K-pop support systems now intertwine.
“In the aspect of Oklahoma and my hometown, my friends tell me they get together every single Monday night to watch the show whether or not I’m on it, just to see what’s going on. And I’ve heard that some K-pop fan groups in Oklahoma have gotten together to do the watch parties for my semis or my qualifier, and now they are arranging things for the final as well. So it’s heartwarming to hear that not only do I have specifically the K-pop fans gathering behind me, but also my fellow Okies in Oklahoma rallying behind me.”
The representation “Revolution”
Beyond the theatrics of AleXa’s stage performances, “Wonderland” pays homage to her cultural roots and the K-pop industry with the inclusion of Korean lyrics. Smiling directly into the camera during the interview, and mentioning the timeliness of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month this May, she says “Wonderland” winning America’s best song would be a “wonderful little wink, wink, nudge, nudge to the community, because representation matters.”
“When I was younger, I didn’t have many people that I could relate to growing up on the screen or in the media,” AleXa says.
“This is America. And I’d like to show more facets of what America has to offer. I just want to spread this message of following your dreams. Nothing is impossible. That sounds cheesy, very cliché, but I have a very long story leading up to where I was, with so many people that had my back and lifted me up when I was down.”
As K-pop becomes more widespread in America and across the globe, and as AleXa’s own following continues to grow, she hopes young people and Asian Americans can more easily find someone to look up to “if they don’t already look up to so many other fabulous K-pop idols that exist nowadays.”
“I’m just saying right now in American media, I hope to be, I guess, a role model eventually for somebody.”
“American Song Contest” finale airs Monday at 7 p.m. CST on NBC.
Featured Image via Character Media